Charlie Crème projects NCAA women’s tournament brackets for ESPN and Tennessee always has been among the 64 teams in the field – until Monday.
In Crème’s latest projection, he had the Lady Vols as the first team out. The determination reflected UT’s 15-8 record (4-6 in the SEC) and its RPI of 61. The latest installment was a 91-63 loss at Mississippi State on Sunday.
The Lady Vols, who have made every NCAA tournament field, were on the brink three years ago, when four losses in February sent them into free fall. But they never slipped from Crème’s projections. A solid finish ultimately kept them in the tournament field as well.
“It was a hot topic for two weeks,” Crème said. “They got close (to falling out) but it never got that close.
“It never got this dire you could say. They’re definitely in a more tenuous situation now.”
Tennessee’s status is impacted by what’s occurring in other conferences. For example, Missouri State (14-7, RPI 63), which is coached by former Lady Vols point guard Kellie Harper, is in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference by virtue of an 85-79 victory over Drake on Feb. 1. Crème currently projects both teams to be among the 64 tournament teams.
Crème also has three Mid-American Conference teams - Central Michigan, Buffalo and Ohio – in his latest field.
Future results could alter those projections and open a spot or two in the field.
Furthermore, the Lady Vols’ remaining regular season schedule allows for more control of their destiny with four games against teams (Auburn, Missouri, Texas A&M and South Carolina) Crème projects to make the tournament.
“They have more opportunity than most in that position,” Crème said of the Lady Vols.
UT’s game against Auburn Thursday night at Thompson-Boling Arena previews as a tournament play-in game for the time being. Auburn this week is among Crème’s final four teams in the field.
Tennessee won at Auburn 78-69 on Jan. 3.
Here’s how Tennessee has fared against the other three aforementioned SEC teams:
Missouri: A 66-64 loss to the Tigers in Knoxville on Jan. 6 was the beginning of a six-game losing streak. The Lady Vols, who play in Columbia, Mo., on Sunday, have lost their last two games against Missouri and all-SEC guard Sophie Cunningham. The total margin has been six points.
Texas A&M: The Aggies, who are led by all-SEC guard Chennedy Carter, are more balanced offensively than earlier in the season. The Lady Vols have split their last two meetings in the series. They’ll return to College Station, Texas, on Feb. 21, where they’ve lost in overtime on their last two visits.
South Carolina: The NCAA Division I women’s basketball committee’s initial reveal of the top 16 seeds on Monday had the Gamecocks as a No. 3 seed in Greensboro, N.C. They’ll visit Knoxville on Feb. 24.
With former star A’ja Wilson having graduated, South Carolina has evolved into a more guard-oriented team. Wilson missed two games against Tennessee last season because of injury and UT won both games.
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Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri who covered University of Tennessee athletics for the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1988-2019. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org